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Randy Moss Kept Them Guessing Until The End

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Ten years to the day that Randy Moss showed the world a side of himself that nobody had ever seen, he has announced that he's hanging up the spikes and calling it a career after 13 NFL seasons.

August 1 is a date that has lived in infamy for fans of the Minnesota Vikings for quite a while now. It was on August 1, 2001 that the world got the shocking news of the death of offensive tackle Korey Stringer, who collapsed on the field during a very hot day of practice at Vikings training camp and passed away a few hours later. During the press conference that followed, Moss, who counted Stringer among his closest friends on the team, broke down and wept openly about the loss of his friend. It was a low spot for Moss in a career that has seen far more peaks than valleys, and showed us for the first time that, at least off the field, Randy Moss was human.

From just watching him on the field, you wouldn't have known that.

Moss carried a perpetual chip on his shoulder after having fallen to the Vikings with the 21st pick in the 1998 NFL Draft, a draft class in which he was clearly a top five talent. For crying out loud, he wasn't even the first wide receiver drafted in 1998. . .that honor went to Utah's Kevin Dyson, whose biggest achievement was scoring on the "Music City Miracle" for the Tennessee Titans against the Buffalo Bills. Moss showed that he was elite from the moment he set foot on an NFL field, and was one of the first players to fundamentally change the way teams would scheme for certain players. The best example of this, as Kevin Seifert of ESPN points out, was the 1998 Green Bay Packers. In two games against the Packers in 1998, Moss caught 13 passes for 343 yards and three touchdowns.

In the 1999 NFL Draft, Green Bay spent their first three picks on defensive backs.

Moss spent seven seasons in Minnesota, all told, interspersing his on-field brilliance with off-field difficulties, such as the infamous "meter maid" incident (which Moss was later cleared of any wrong-doing in after the fact), allegedly being caught with marijuana in his car, and, in the move that ultimately got him his ticket out of Minnesota, calling then-owner Red McCombs a "cheap bastard" after the Vikings' 2004 playoff loss to the Philadelphia Eagles. While he was on the field, however, there was nobody comparable to Randy Moss. In his first seven years with the Vikings, Moss hauled in 9,142 receiving yards and found the end zone 90 times. After a layover in Oakland, he then went to the New England Patriots, where he set the record for most touchdown receptions in a season with 23 for the 16-0 Patriots of 2007.

Last season, Moss bounced around between three teams. . .the Patriots, the Vikings, and the Tennessee Titans. . .and didn't look like quite the same guy. Sure, the physical skills were still there, but it looked like the drive, desire, and the chip on his shoulder that had motivated him for so long had disappeared.

For all his peccadilloes, there are few players in team history that are more beloved by fans of the Minnesota Vikings than Randy Moss. Even after he was initially traded to Oakland, fans would speculate every year that Moss was coming back to Minnesota. When the trade was made to bring him back in 2010, Viking fans universally rejoiced and hope that, for just a while, the Randy Moss of old would be back in purple and gold. Alas, thanks to the incompetence of Brad Childress, that was not to be.

As a Viking fan, I'm happy to say that I was able to bear witness to the guy that might have been the single most physically gifted wide receiver that the NFL has ever seen. . .and that deep down, whether he was in Oakland or Tennessee or New England or wherever, it never seemed as though he was ever happy with having left Minnesota. I wish Red McCombs had never sent him out of town, but those decisions aren't for people like me to make.

Randy Moss will be in Canton someday, ladies and gentlemen. He won't get in on the first ballot or anything. . .there's no way the people that vote for the Hall of Fame would ever allow that to happen. . .but one day, he'll take his place among the immortals of the game, as he should. It's even entirely possible that he might unretire and I'll look awfully silly for writing this a month or so from now. But if this is the end for Randy Moss, I just want to say one thing to #84 from Viking Nation, from the bottom of our hearts.

Thank you, Randy. Thank you for all the memories, all the moments, and all the great times you brought to Minnesota.

And, hey, if you want to give it another go. . .

Photographs by Micah Taylor, clairity, and Fibonacci Blue used in background montage under Creative Commons. Thank you.